GMOs. Animal welfare. Environmentalism. The buzzwords are the same, no matter which side of the ocean you’re on, says Floyd County Farm Bureau member Laura Cunningham.
Cunningham, past chair of the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer Advisory Committee, was among a quartet of Farm Bureau members from Iowa who participated in a consumer engagement study trip to Germany last month sponsored by the German American Chamber of Commerce (GACC) of the Midwest. The Iowa Farm Bureau (IFBF) has been a cooperator with the GACC in the Transatlantic Dialogue series for four years.
The trip included a series of farm visits and discussions with farmers about how they are engaging consumers and addressing the public’s questions about food production. One of the highlights was taking part in AgChat Germany’s World AgVocate Meeting with bloggers and social media agriculture advocates from all over the world.
“Even across the pond, we share some of the same challenges, but also the same passion for what we do,” says Cunningham. “Advocacy as a whole needs to be a global effort. Our markets are global, so our advocacy has to be global too. We need to work together to help consumers understand how their food is grown.”
Also representing the Iowa Farm Bureau were Darcy Maulsby of Calhoun County, Chad Ingels of Fayette County and Andy Hill, IFBF District 2 director from Worth County. Dave Miller, IFBF director of research and commodity services, led the Iowa delegation.
Farmers in Germany face more urban pressure than their counterparts in Iowa, with more than 80 million people crowded into an area only about 2.5 times larger than Iowa. Cunningham noticed livestock farmers there seemed to be under even more regulatory pressure than U.S. farmers on issues such as animal welfare and nutrient management. The IFBF group visited a hog farm that had expanded after the fall of the Berlin Wall, only to be hit with regulations forcing it to downsize.
“Almost overnight, they had regulations that caused them to reduce their herd by 40 percent,” Cunningham says.
As a relatively wealthy society, German consumers are more concerned about the environment than the efficiency of farms, she adds.
“They weren’t as ready to accept what it took as far as using resources to produce food,” Cunningham says.
Many consumer concerns are deeply embedded in historical context, she notes. European consumers likely are more fearful of chemicals in their food supply due to a history of chemical attacks during wars fought across the continent.
“This is where understanding where people come from as a society is important,” says Cunningham. “That’s something I hadn’t thought about before, but it makes a lot of sense in understanding how to talk to consumers about certain things.”
EU trade context
Miller and Hill also traveled to Brussels to meet with European Union officials on farm policy and trade concerns.
“They were very interested in what’s happening with U.S. trade policy,” Miller says. “They’re as frustrated with China as we are at times, but they’ve chosen to take what they think is a more constructive approach with China.”
The EU also has been aggressively pursuing trade deals with Canada as well as South America and African countries, he notes.
“They are setting the framework for trade with Africa that will give them an advantage,” says Miller. “There’s not a lot of money there now, but there are a lot of hungry people there.”